Prayer: From Duty to Delight

How is your prayer life? If that question triggers a sense of guilt and failure, you’re not alone. Perhaps no query about spiritual disciplines causes more concern than that of the quantity and quality of one’s praying.

Prayer is a vital aspect of Christian living that is usually viewed as a duty rather than a delight, more as a command than an opportunity. To appreciate the potential and privileges of personal communication with God, we need to reframe prayer and see it from New Covenant perspective.

In Romans chapter 7, we see the failure of legalism, the frustrations of attempting practical holiness in one’s own strength by external standards [such as “you must pray this much or else!”]. But in chapter eight, the New Covenant perspective dawns with verse one: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus….” We are assured that our union with Christ has provided victory over the law of sin and death as we abide in Christ (Rom. 6:5-14; 8:1-2).

This grace perspective is then related to prayer: “In the same way [as God’s Spirit fills us with hope] the Spirit also helps us in our weakness; for we do not know what prayers to offer nor in what way to offer them. But the Spirit Himself pleads for us in yearnings that can find no words, and the Searcher of hearts knows what the Spirit’s meaning is, because His intercessions for God’s people are in harmony with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26,27, Weymouth).

How shall we view prayer in this Age of Grace? For starters, consider these five affirmations.

1. Prayer is a privilege.

Can we really grasp the privilege we have of enjoying a personal audience with the King of kings and Lord of lords? “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

For God’s New Covenant people, His throne of justice is a throne of grace!

2. Prayer is an opportunity.

God invites His people to speak with Him! “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jer. 33:3).

Christ declares this opportunity: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7).

God counsels us through Paul, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6,7).

James exhorts us: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13).

Why hold onto our problems and forfeit the peace that communion with God offers?

3. Prayer is a dialogue.

Too often our prayer becomes hollow because we view it as a monologue (a one way speech). But notice the way prayer can be a response to God.

This was rare under the Old Covenant, but the patriarchs communed with God this way. “So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle” (Exodus 33:11).

When King David asked the prophet Nathan for permission to build a temple for the LORD, the prophet was given a revelation of God’s promises to David–the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:1-17). David’s prayer of praise and thanksgiving was a response to God’s message to him: “Then King David went in and sat before the LORD; and he said: ‘Who am I, O Lord GOD? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O Lord GOD; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come. Is this the manner of man, O Lord GOD? Now what more can David say to You? For You, Lord GOD, know Your servant. For Your word’s sake, and according to Your own heart, You have done all these great things, to make Your servant know them. Therefore You are great, O Lord GOD. For there is none like You, nor is there any God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears…” (2 Sam. 7:18-22).

Likewise, we do well to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly with all wisdom (Col. 3:16), then prayer will flow from our hearts as verbal response to God.

4. Prayer is spiritually enabled.

Effective prayer cannot be cranked out by self-effort. Sadly, that is the case with many who are devoted to false religions. Trying to pray well enough as a duty will drain the joy and vitality from our intercession. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5) and this includes prayer.

To a nation known for offering ritualistic prayer, the LORD predicts a time when Israel will recognize Yeshua (Jesus) as their true messiah at the end of this age: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of GRACE and SUPPLICATION; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zech.12:10 emphasis added).

In the New Covenant God seals believers with his Spirit: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!'” (Gal. 4:6).[1]

Just as we need a phone service for a long distance call, or an ISP to use the Internet, we need God’s Spirit to connect us to our personal, verbal fellowship with God.

5. Prayer is a blessing.

Our Lord Jesus promises these blessings: “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 14:14; 15:7; 16:24).

The early church continually experienced the blessings of prayer. “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31; [2]

To sum up, our conversation with God is an expression of our union and communion with God through Christ, by grace. Andrew Murray wrote dynamically of this grace of intercession: “Who is Sufficient for These Things? The more we study and try to practice this grace of intercession, the more we become overwhelmed by its greatness and our feebleness. Let every such impression lead us to listen: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’ and to answer truthfully: ‘Our sufficiency is of God.’ Take courage; it is in the intercession of Christ you are called to take part. The burden and the agony, the triumph and the victory are all His. Learn from Him, yield to His Spirit in you, to know how to pray. He gave Himself a sacrifice to God for men, that He might have the right and power of intercession. ‘He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’ [Isaiah 53:12 KJV]. “Let your faith rest boldly on His finished work. Let your heart wholly identify itself with Him in His death and His life. Like Him, give yourself to God a sacrifice for men; it is your highest nobility; it is your true and full union with Him; it will be to you, as to Him, your power of intercession.”[3]

Since prayer is a privilege, an opportunity, a dialogue, and a spiritually-enabled source of blessing, may our communication with God be pleasing to Him, rising heavenward as fragrant incense.[4]

[1] “Abba” is a transliteration the Aramaic word meaning “daddy.”

[2] See also Acts 1:14; 3:1; 6:4; 10:31; 12:5; 16:13

[3] Andrew Murray, Helps to Intercession. ( available online at )

[4] As in Revelation 5:8; 8:3,4

Copyright 2006 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Please credit Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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